Some four years ago, I referred to the "Tour Jean sans Peur" in one of my posts about the Philippe Auguste Wall, which was built around 1200 to protect the then much smaller Paris. I went back recently for a more thorough visit.
The tower (which you can find on Rue Etienne Marcel) is what remains of what once was the Hôtel (townhouse) de Bourgogne, owned by the Dukes of Burgundy. The tower was added 1409-11 to the then more than hundred years old building. The townhouse is gone, but the tower is still there and was renovated during the latter part of the 19th century. It’s open to public since 1999.
So, the tower was built when the owner was Jean sans Peur, John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy. The “Fearless” refers to some previous war bravery, but the tower was actually built because of some good reasons of fear. John was in conflict against Louis of Orléans, younger brother of the increasingly mad King Charles VI – they were both pretenders to the throne. In 1407 Louis d’Orléans was assassinated on the orders of John and John thought it useful, necessary, to find a safe place where he could hide in case of danger. The tower was built.
The assassination led to what is referred to as the Armagnac (Orléans)-Burgundian Civil War which lasted to 1435 – and was indirectly linked to the already ongoing Hundred Years’ War against the English where the Burgundians often played to the advantage of the English. John was finally also assassinated in 1419, during what should have been some “peace talks” between the two family branches.
Maybe the below table helps to see how the families were linked. We can see how the assassinated Louis d’Orléans had had the time to leave some heirs – he was the grandfather of the King Louis XII and the great-grandfather of François I.
The Burgundy townhouse and the tower were built adjacent to, just outside, the Philippe-Auguste wall. When you enter you can see some rests of the foundations of the building and also some rests of the wall. Here you can also see what the townhouse once looked like.
Climbing the tower, you do it first by some fairly large stairs on the top of which you can find a beautiful genealogic tree (see also top picture), originally painted in vivid colours. What we can see is the trunk of an oak tree, symbol of John’s father Philippe le Hardi (Phillip the Bold), Duke of Burgundy. Among the branches you can also find hawthorn flowers, symbol of his mother Margaret III, Countess of Flandres, and hop leaves, symbol of John the Fearless himself. This is certainly linked to the Tree of Jesse. It’s clear that John owned and studied several illustrations of the Tree. (The Tree of Jesse is the genealogic presentation of the ancestors of Christ, starting with Jesse, the father of David, and where Christ is the fruit or the flower on top of the tree.)
One detail which illustrates the tough fight between the family branches is that John the Fearless, in addition to his Coat of Arms had chosen an additional quite dramatic symbol, a plane. Both are visible in the tower.
When you come to the top floors, the stairs get quite narrow – easy to defend.
On each floor there are some decorations and some explanations to read and in a basement floor you have temporary expositions.
One remarkable thing about the tower is that it’s probably one of the oldest buildings where you had latrines with inside evacuation. Also, you would find them just behind a wall with a chimney, which means that the "toilets" were reasonably heated.
Here we can see on which level the beautiful ceiling tree can be found and on the 1572 map (where the Philippe Auguste wall is well visible), we can see approximately where the Burgundy townhouse was situated and also where the assassination of Louis d’Orléans was supposed to have taken place.
Actually, there is little alley on Rue des Francs Bourgeois in the Marias, where you are informed that it should be where the assassination took place. The buildings in this alley are quite old, but they were of course built some 200 years after the assassination.
If you click here, you will have a recapitulation of the different places I have so far visited, where the Philippe-Auguste wall is visible.